Thanks to video game preservation efforts, a prototype version of the official Akira video game has resurfaced a quarter-century after its promised release. The sci-fi anime classic was meant to have adaptations on the Sega Genesis, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Mega Drive and more.
In the 1980s, the mish-mash of video games and pop culture couldn’t be avoided. As the SNES, Genesis, and other household consoles reached home, nearly everything got a game adaptation. So of course, an Akira adaptation seemed inevitable — and a hotly-anticipated Western adaptation existed, with demos popping up at game shows in the early 1990s… until it didn’t exist.
This particular Akira game saw wide coverage before it fell out of development. It was developed by Black Pearl Software, a THQ company which was known for its adaptation of The Mask and its PGA Tour 96 game across several platforms. However, this edition fell out of development, and two poorly-received ones ended up making it out alive.
Hidden Palace, responsible for the prototype release, compiled a gameplay video for this game. Now, we can see the potential of this lost game — and it’s more than promising. Multiple genres are represented, including driving sections, beat-em-ups, isometric combat, platforming, and more. There are also some small cutscenes that show how the story plays out. The actual prototype, of course, is glitchy and incomplete, but many sections are complete enough to give a whirl.
Hidden Palace, responsible for the video and this resurfaced software, is a group dedicated to preserving video game software and hardware. This year, prototypes are their main headlines for software releases. Their list of prototype preservation efforts this year includes Silent Hill v0.10, The Jungle Book, and an early one for Return of the Jedi for the SNES.
The Akira case seems special even for this group. At the time, it seems it wasn’t really known how this Akira game vanished into the night. It was known to be in development in the early 1990s. A Genesis demo was even available at CES 1993.
Just under 20 years later, a now-archived 2012 interview on Hardcore Gaming 101 with former Akira game developer, Jim Gregory, provided more context for the lost game. Journalist John Szczepaniak spent quite a bit of time collecting information about the Akira game. had to use old scans of a Game Zone magazine to track down which developers were involved, and he found Gregory in the process. Szczepaniak learned the team was developing unique releases across various platforms: not only Sega Mega Drive, but also SNES, Sega Genesis, and Sega Game Gear. Gregory in particular, as it turned out, was part of the SNES development team at Handmade Software.
Gregory, who at the time of the interview claimed to still work in games, discussed the difficulty of game development, plus the intersections with licensing and consoles. The developers had to “pirate” a whole SNES to get its hardware and software information, as it was hard to get official console data in order to learn what was required for the games.
The difficulty of the project, plus the time pitfalls of development hell, brought Akira to a stop.
“It was not so much cancelled or scrapped as it fell into neglect,” Gregory told Hardcore Gaming 101. “Larry [Siegel, who was hired by THQ and later led the Akira project there,] transferred rights to THQ and we couldn’t get clear agreement on the game elements with the project manager. They didn’t understand the limitations of the SNES. The project was then victim to a number of disasters including the lead programmer leaving, and other work being more pressing.”
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Szczepaniak also got in touch with Tom Meigs, who worked at Black Pearl. Miegs unfortunately confirmed that while Game Gear and Genesis versions were in the works, the Game Gear assets were all destroyed.
It seems the lost variations of the game would have been something special. According to someone who played and spoke to Hardcore Gaming 101, the Genesis version was closer to what we saw in the Sega Mega Drive version with multiple genres across a number of scenes.
Now, thanks Hidden Palace, we can dream of what this Akira game adaptation could have been — and mourn the loss of many games like it. You can read more about the prototype on the Hidden Palace site.